The Future of Fusion: Museum Welcomes Shawn Markham to Board of Trustees

Shawn R. Markham

In May, The Corning Museum of Glass continued to expand and diversify its Board of Trustees with the announcement of two additional members: Shawn Markham and Quincy Houghton. Following the earlier appointment of glass artist Corey Pemberton in February, the Board is now composed of 15 members.

Shawn R. Markham has a career at Corning Incorporated spanning 32 years and was recently named a Corporate Fellow—a title bestowed upon Corning’s most experienced and respected experts in their fields. Katherine Quincy Houghton is the Deputy Director of Exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in New York City, where she leads the museum’s program of groundbreaking loan exhibitions, oversees installations of its encyclopedic collection, and supervises key international initiatives.

In this week’s blog, we’ll learn more about Shawn Markham. Check back soon for an introduction to Quincy Houghton. Please join us in welcoming them both.

A two-hour drive northwest and a few counties over from Corning sits the little town of Norwich, NY, in the Chenango River valley. With a population of a little over 7000 people, Norwich doesn’t much resemble the English city from which it takes its name. However, a large pharmaceutical company located there since the late 19th century prompted high expectations in math and science within the tight-knit community. One child who lived up to those expectations was Shawn Markham, who recently became the first-ever female engineer at Corning Incorporated to be honored as a Corporate Fellow following 32 years of distinguished service.

Growing up in Norwich, Markham remembers a summer vacation when she was 12 years old. “No trip through the Finger Lakes is complete without a stop at The Corning Museum of Glass,” she recalls. “I distinctly remember the large telescope lens on display, it made me realize glass was more than just a household consumer product.” That trip set in motion a lifelong fascination with glass.

A few years after this trip, a high school guidance counselor’s encouragement led Markham to pursue a degree in engineering. “As my parents had gone to school in Albany, they didn’t think Troy, NY, was a very nice place to live so that took Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute off my list,” Markham says, but that led her further afield to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts instead, where she was interested in the school’s “focus on project-based requirements, particularly in making a connection between science and society.”

After graduating in 1991 with her Mechanical Engineering degree in hand, Shawn was immediately employed by Corning Incorporated. “It was an easy transition,” she says, “venturing out on my own in a friendly town not too far from home.” Shawn started in the Applied Process Engineering group and, coincidently, her first project was numerical modeling for the Japanese National Light Telescope, which rekindled memories of her childhood visit to the Museum.

Shawn Markham explains her fascination with Corning and fusion glass technology.

Only a few years into her career with Corning, Shawn was offered the opportunity to relocate to Harrodsburg, KY, and work on the emerging fusion glass market. “Being in on the beginning of a business that grew around the world has never disappointed me,” she says. Fusion—a process invented by Corning that creates large, pristine, flat glass—has enabled the development of Corning’s famous Gorilla Glass© along with numerous other applications, and for Shawn, the universality of fusion has kept her enthralled for the past two decades, making her one of the foremost experts in the world.

Shawn and her partner getting ready to water ski.

Another relocation soon presented itself, taking Shawn, her husband, and their three children on an ex-pat assignment all the way to Kobe, Japan, which Shawn considered a “most wonderful opportunity.” On returning to Corning’s facility in Kentucky and the Markham family’s 300-acre farm (where the fence needs constant repair), Shawn has enjoyed engaging deeply with the local community where she now serves as vice president of the Mercer County Public Library Board and is a member of the Ephraim McDowell James B. Haggin Hospital board of directors. Shawn and her husband also enjoy water skiing on Lake Cumberland where they’ll stay out until the sun sets, or they can’t hold on to the rope any longer.

Watching a beautiful Kentucky sunset from their farm outside Harrodsburg.

Shawn’s appreciation for glass also extends to its artistic form. In her earliest visits to the Museum, she recalls being impressed by the Steuben artworks on display and in particular by glass representing motion. Steuben’s Handkerchief Vase was a personal favorite and the first piece that Shawn bought for herself. Now, it’s objects like Wave 12 by Japanese artist Niyoko Ikuta that captivate her, where she finds a balance between the scientific and artistic use of glass. In this case, stacking small, uniform sections of plate glass—a mainstay product of Corning’s business—creates beautiful swirling shapes that mesmerize the viewer.

Wave 11 and Wave 12 by Niyoko Ikuta (2007.6.5 and 2007.6.6), not on view.

“The word ‘art’ can be defined,” she says, “as ‘the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’ The newest section of the Museum really brings that home for me.” Fortunately for Shawn, with each visit back to Corning headquarters, there is usually an event at the Museum to attend or an opportunity to spend 30 minutes walking through the galleries to help connect her to the collection. “It’s invigorating to be reminded of the historical significance of glass,” she says.

Asked about her aspirations for the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Shawn says, “By nature and by training, I tend to be a very practical and pragmatic person. We are always having to make choices on priorities in life, even when it comes to art. Using skills from the engineering world, I hope to help guide decisions as there is still room for feelings and ideas to be captured in the selection processes. And specifically, from a science perspective, how can we help someone think about glass or STEAM careers differently through a display in our Innovation Galleries.”

“Among the many stories about glass that can be told, those that relate to scientific advancement and engineering breakthroughs are among the most exciting,” says Karol Wight, President and Executive Director. “I am delighted to welcome Shawn Markham to our board so that she can bring her experience and insight as an innovator in glass to our work at the Museum.”

Shawn R. Markham joins Alan T. Eusden, Jeffrey W. Evenson, James B. Flaws, Randi L. Hewit, James D. Houghton, K. Quincy Houghton, Alexia I. Hudson-Ward, Corey H. Pemberton, Mark S. Rogus, Edward A. Schlesinger, Preston L. Singletary, Wendell P. Weeks, Karol B. Wight, and Marianne W. Young on the Board of Trustees.

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